Holy Week Concert

Holy Week Concert
With Carol Dondale
Accompanied by Cairine Robertson
Noon, Wednesday, March 28, 2018 ~ Digby Baptist Church

Welcome to our Holy Week Concert, featuring soloist Carol Dondale, accompanied by Cairine Robertson on the piano.
This time draws our attention to the story of Jesus in the week of His pain and execution. There are many paths we can take to follow Him, many stories from scripture that can guide our personal devotions. The songs Carol has chosen tell the story in their own creative way, and instill a response in our souls.
I chose to punctuate the music with the Psalms. As the ‘hymnbook,’ so to speak, of the Jews, is was, of course, Jesus’ hymn book also. Twentieth Century theologian and martyr, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, taught that the secret of the Psalms, for the Christian disciple, is to remember we are hearing Jesus pray, whenever we read these ancient poems.
So we start with words of Psalm 25, and work our way back through a few pages, as Jesus descends into the depths and darkness of His suffering and death. Christ knew these words at least as well as we do. Listen for his heart at prayer with the Psalms today. And listen for your own soul, praying with Him.

The way of God: Psalm 25:1-5

Just before the music begins, let us pray.
To You, O LORD, we do lift up our souls. With the songs of the day, may we ponder anew what You, Almighty, can do. You lay aside might and power and control, and show yourself in a Man who submits to rejection and execution. Lift up our hearts to have hope: that violence may cease, blaming can end, and light shine out of darkness in our world.
In Jesus’ name. AMEN.

I Walked Today Where Jesus Walked

That classic devotional song inspires our sanctified imagination. We imagine ourselves in those Bible scenes. We picture them as best we can. And, sometimes, the presence of the Holy One shows us something new we had not found before.
The next song is one of my many favourites, among the wealth of English hymnody. We have here the scene of Jesus welcomed into the City that holy week, long ago, the people waving branches and calling out to Him.
Psalm 24 is one of my own favourite Psalms, with its words of welcome into the Temple of worship. In your mind’s eye see the King of Glory coming in. Not the glory of battles won by violence, but the glory of bowing down to enter the desperate human plight.

Entering the gates: Psalm 24:7-10

My Song Is Love Unknown

‘Tis Midnight: and on Olive’s Brow is still in hymn books today – including ours here. It has an interesting lyric, to me. As it reflects on Jesus praying on the Mount of Olives, it says:
yet he that hath in anguish knelt
is not forsaken by his God.
Though we sometimes speak, and sing, otherwise, we find that God the Father does not desert God the Son. The whole Trinity of love and power is seen in Jesus, as He dies. In Jesus we see God, and Love.
So our beloved Psalm 23 is very fitting. Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil; for you are with me…. Remember again, Jesus knew this poem as well as we do.

The darkest valley: Psalm 23:1-6

‘Tis Midnight; and on Olive’s Brow

It is the time of the Saviour’s woe. The end has come. One of His so called ‘seven words from the Cross’ is the first phrase from Psalm 22. We are told Jesus said this out loud. For other Jews watching that day, who knew the Psalms, it would bring to mind the whole prayer of desperation and deliverance. In our Bibles this lyric is two pages long. It cries out about a horrible situation, at great length. But ends with trust.
For the moment – this moment of Jesus’ death – let us hear the first eight verses.

Abandonment: Psalm 22:1-8

They Crucified My Lord

This ‘greatest story ever told’ is, I believe, intended to touch every person’s story. Your life story. My life story. Where love needs to break in, it breaks in.
Our own late poet, Leonard Cohen, famously sang
There is a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in (Anthem, 1992)
Flipping back the pages, the biblical poet next gives us a Psalm of Thanksgiving for Victory. Is that what you see in the Cross of Jesus? Psalm 21 has a word in it, one of the greatest words in the ancient Hebrew language of the Bible: Hesed. ‘Steadfast love’ is the best we can do to translate it. This Psalm is actually about their king. With Christ we can see a King, very different from others, who is all about this holy ‘steadfast love.’

Steadfast love: Psalm 21:4-7

How Deep the Father’s Love for Us

Jesus, beyond the Cross, lives, we Christians say. We say it with our whole lives, not just our words, eh? A prayer for victory such as Psalm 20 uses phrases about our answers, our help, our favour, our heart’s desire, our petitions. Down in our heart of hearts, where hurts can be hidden, it is there that Holiness meets us, joins us, heals us, shines with inner light.
Jesus is the anointed one – Messiah and Christ are just two other words for the Anointed One. He rises and stands upright. He lives within my heart.

Your heart’s desire: Psalm 20:1, 4-8

He Lives Within My Heart

Now let us go out to love and serve the Lord. Even in this dark and holy week. Thanks to Carol and Cairine for this musical program they prepared. I think the journey has been not only beautiful, but personal.
The tables are prepared in the hall for us to share our lunch with one another. Join us for this feast of fellowship. Amid the chatting and munching, may we know that a shared meal is also a holy and gracious time.
Prayer of acceptance: Psalm 19:14

Let us have grace for the meal.
Jesus: for the feast of music and scripture we give thanks. For the unity of sisters and brothers we rejoice. And for the generosity of food at Your tables we bow with gratitude. AMEN.

A New Agreement

For weeks we have been peeking at various ‘Covenants’ in the Old Testament, agreements between God and people. Late in the Old Testament story, the prophet Jeremiah proclaims the hope of a New Covenant / Testament / Agreement.
Ever have a hard time agreeing with people?

God has also had a hard time through the millennia having a good relationship with people. Jeremiah’s word is beautiful today. It speaks of knowing God, within. Not necessarily a new promise; some of these were familiar phrases.
31:33 But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. 34 No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, “Know the Lord,” for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the Lord…

This is about God, what God is, who God is, what God does. Just lately I have been reading a few new books – about God – and I am having my mind blown! The authors are suggesting a vision of God that is better than the usual. One main suggestion is not new, but is strong: to know God is a natural thing.

I am reminded of the story, oft told, of a young family with a curious little boy, about three years old. once the next baby child comes home from the hospital, the big brother says he wants to talk alone with the infant. The parents are a bit unsure what this would be about; after a while they agree to let the little fellow talk alone to the baby. But the parents listen carefully just outside the door of the baby’s room. Then they hear their son say, “Tell me about God; I’m starting to forget.”

That’s quite the little legend. It raises the question: are we – every one of us – made for relationship with the Divine, from before our birth?
Yes. God is Relationship. God welcomes us into Relationship, into the Trinity.

St. Patrick and shamrock leaves.
We are welcomed into the Trinity.
We, in our Christianity, speak of : Jesus in you. Colossians 1:27 To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.

Holy Spirit in you. Romans 8:15 …When we cry, “Abba! Father!” 16 it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God…

God the Father in you? Yes. Jesus says He and God the Father are one. So you are beloved! Loved from the inside out. You have God in you!

Perhaps scholar Baxter Kruger has got it right:
our darkness is that we don’t know: God is in us.

‘I once was lost but now am found, was blind but now I see.’ – John Newton. Now I see I belong to God, now I know Christ is within me.

Christ the Light. Christ died to enter our darkness. Glorified: lifted up to die. John 12 speaks of this. The glory of God is seen in the most painful moment, the greatest need, the most desperate pain. God is there.

I think I have told you the story before of author Richard Foster, back in his early days in pastoral work. A man was troubled, had been troubled for years, since the second world war. One fateful night he saw his whole small company of men get shot down, trying to escape a trap. He alone survived. He had never been able to sleep much since.

One day, he told his pastor, Richard Foster, about the experience. And asked: where was God that night? Why were their desperate prayers not answered?

In the conversation, Foster counselled the man, suggesting Jesus could go back in his terrible memory of that moment, go back in time with him now, if the man wanted.
And so they spend some prayer time going back to that terrible night, step by step, with Jesus at the man’s side. Somehow, there was some relief in that experience, and healing of the trauma began. The man even started sleeping again, sleeping through the night. He was able to smile again. To live.

I have always liked that story, not quite knowing how it worked – not needing to know. But I think now it is getting in touch with the fact that, back on that war-torn night in WWII, Jesus was there, but the men did not see Him. To go back and know that, made a big difference to the troubled commanding officer, all those years later. Jesus, who went through his own torture, betrayal, and execution, was available for those men that night, in WWII.

The Christ event looms before us: Jesus’ suffering, death, and resurrection. We come to the big annual week of celebrating this at the end of March this year. One of the great poetic scriptures that speaks of this is Philippians 2
5 Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,
6 who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
as something to be exploited,
7 but emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form,
8 he humbled himself
and became obedient to the point of death—
even death on a cross.

Jesus emptied Himself, laid down His life.
Brad Jerzak: “What if? What if Jesus’ humility, meekness and servant heart were never a departure from God’s glory and power, but actually define it and demonstrate it?” (A More Christlike God, Brad Jerzak, 2015, p. 100)
Jesus shows us what God is like. God is like Jesus. The Cross is non-violence, non-control. “Not lording over, but always coming under; not triumphing through conquest, but through the Cross.” (Jerzak, p. 101)
1 John 3:1 See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are.
16 We know love by this, that he laid down his life for us—and we ought to lay down our lives for one another.
My mind and heart has been swirling with all this stuff, because it is so exciting!

God IN everyone: many are simply blind to this. Many don’t believe this.
And so it is with all those around us.
They also are children of God. In the Image.
Have God/Christ/Spirit within them.
Glory and Love deep inside.

Look! Everyone you meet. Everyone you see.
Every single person loved by God intensely.

No wonder we read the warnings of Jesus in Matthew 25 in His parable of the sheep and the goats.
The sheep ask the Master: 37‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? 38 And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? 39 And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ 40 And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these brothers [or sisters], you did it to me.’

Look around the room at every person.
Every one: God within. Glory within. Love within. Every person.
The familiar face you have never got to know yet.
The friend you have known most of your life.
The person you have quite a lot in common with.
The one who seems quite different from you.
The person you laughed with a lot this week.
The one who hurt and offended you this week.
The homeless young fellow who wanted a ride to the shelter in Halifax this week.
The non-verbal person in a wheelchair at Tideview you saw.
The very intelligent professional who almost intimidated you.

God within each. With God in you, you can see this too. When you start to forget that the Spirit is there, in each other person: pause and remember. This is the holy starting point for each moment you meet him, you meet her, you meet them.

So there is a New Agreement. A new covenant.
God in you. ‘Know the Lord.’
In you. In those around you.
Thanks be to God.

Keep ‘Er Between the Ditches

(Exodus 19:1-7; 20:1-17)

L3, Sun, March 4, 2018 – UBC Digby – J G White

I remember spinning, out of control.

Whenever I drive to Halifax, on the way back home, I usually remember my car spinning out of control in the winter of 1996.  Just past exit 4, near St. Croix, there is a hill.  Twenty years ago it was not a divided highway; and one day, it was snow covered, and the little car that my father was lending me started to lose its grip as I drove up the hill.  I just let it spin… around and around a few times, coming to a stop on the shoulder – the other side, facing down the hill.  A few other cars going my way, and coming the other way did not get in the way, thankfully, and I stayed out of the ditches and guardrails.  I took a breath, took my foot off the break, and set out to finish my journey.  

Life is sometimes like a snowy highway: it is a challenge to keep your life on track. To “keep ‘er between the ditches,” as some people say.  Do y’ever say that to someone as they head out to drive away?  “Keep ‘er between the ditches!”  

The Ten Commandments are here in two places in scripture, and pictured in stained glass, to ‘keep us between the ditches.’  Famously, these Ten Words are just the beginning of many other rules, regulations, guidelines, policies, and procedures for the Jewish people of old.  

Christians still find them at the foundation of how to live today. With this on my mind I found the Bible converged with music, over the past 10 days. I happened to listen to some music, music I know, but it struck me and stuck with me.  Like an ‘earworm,’ I have been humming and playing it every day.  And so I started to put words to the music: the Ten Commandments, of all things!  And then I added the words of Jesus.  

Jesus was asked by a religious law expert: [Matthew 22:36-40] “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” He said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ [Deut 6:5]  This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ [Lev 19:18] On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”

So these two ‘commandments’ Jesus quotes are not among the Ten, they are some of the other material.  There are more than ten.  And some are more significant for us today than others.

An exact, unchanging rulebook does not suit every roadway, every era, every journey of your life.  The rules of the road to keep you out of the ditch have changed, right?  How wide the road is, what the speed limits are, these things change, thru the years.  Highway 101 is about to change, near us. So too with the guidelines for God’s people.  Thousands of years bring thousands of changes in how Jews and Christians live with boundaries and freedom.

We look to Jesus, who gets beyond the Old Testament law, goes deeper.  Remember those bits when he says, “You have heard it said…, but I say to you…”?  That’s from His sermon on the mount, recorded in Matthew.  (chapter 5)

“You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You shall not murder’; and ‘whoever murders shall be liable to judgment.’ 22 But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment; and if you insult a brother or sister, you will be liable to the council; and if you say, ‘You fool,’ you will be liable to the hell of fire.

27 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ 28 But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart.

33 “Again, you have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but carry out the vows you have made to the Lord.’ 34 But I say to you, Do not swear at all, [either] by heaven, for it is the throne of God… 37 Let your word be ‘Yes, Yes’ or ‘No, No’; anything more than this comes from the evil one.

Today, as disciples of the Master, Jesus, we seek again what it means to keep the sabbath, to honour parents, to cease wanting what others have.  We do these things differently than believers 100 years ago.  Oh my, at the Tea yesterday here, a woman was almost dancing to the music, and trying to teach the Pastor basic dance steps!  Your Baptist grandmothers here would not have look favourably on this, years ago.  Our sense of holy and appropriate behaviour has evolved, through the decades.

What is true does not change, but our moment in history does, and what our obedience looks like is sometimes new and fresh.

American lawyer, linguist and poet, James R. Lowell, published some verses in the Boston Courier in 1845, as a protest to the war with Mexico, at the time.  His poem since has been sung as a hymn,  (Once to Every Man and Nation) including these verses: New occasions teach new duties;
Time makes ancient good uncouth;
They must upward still and onward
Who would keep abreast of truth.

The Decalogue is not so much legalistic or moralistic.  It is 1. defining the limits of God’s people, to keep them between the ditches, so to speak.  Giving good boundaries.  And it is  2. a response to God’s grace.  We must not forget this.  Obedience to the commands of old and the guidance of Jesus is not a way of earning our way into heaven, into God’s good books, into some sort of salvation.  Following the Way is all because of the grace that we first receive.  

Those Hebrews at Mount Sinai with Moses, they had already been set free and crossed the Red sea.  Afterwords, the Law was given to them.  So too with Christian salvation.  What Jesus does when He dies unites us with God, and we do something because of this.  We do our best, gratefully.  Not to earn grace. We already were given grace in our souls.

So the path of obedience is a way we are guided.  And we must keep on studying, with our hearts, the guidance of God for us.

Frederick Beuchner claimed Jesus did not say that religion was the truth or that his own teachings were the truth or that what people taught about him was the truth or that the Bible was the truth or the Church or any system of ethics or theological doctrine. (Listening to Your Life, 1992, p. 307)  

What did Jesus say about truth?  Apparently: I am the way, the truth, and the life.  

Jesus saves us, and sets us on the road of new life.  Then, then, we are helped to keep it between the ditches, and keep on in a good direction.